Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Self-Righteousness and the Third Article

"I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but that the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel..."

For those of you who don't know, these words commence Martin Luther's explanation of the Third Article of the Apostles' Creed in his Small Catechism.  And these are words that we Lutherans hold dear.  We love them.  We memorize them.  We quote them.  We cherish them.  But do we always believe them?

Certainly we believe them in an academic sense, in an official-statement-of-belief kind of way.  After all, it's these plain words that hold fast to the doctrine of divine monergism that so frequently gets gobbled up by Arminian jaws before the Christian's eyes.  It's these simple words that remind us that the Holy Spirit is not some insecure, fumbling ninny who can only dare to linger 50 yards away from your doorstep, hoping that, one of these days, you might finally invite Him in.  We confess these words because they confess what the Scriptures teach about salvation-that the Triune God is not only solely responsible for willing and winning our salvation, but that He is also solely responsible for delivering that salvation to us through the call of His Spirit.

And yet, while we certainly believe these words, do we really believe them?  Is our love of these words confined to using them as endless ammo against the endless onslaught of decision-theology marauders or do these words actually have a formative impact on how we deal with unbelief, false doctrine and error in our daily lives?

I ask this because, despite how loudly we declare that we cannot by our own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, our Lord, our behavior often makes it clear that, somewhere in the rotten corners of our hearts, we don't really believe this.  Despite our claims to the contrary, our fruit often reveals how the old man, the hidden Pharisee within us won't give up the notion that faith is our noble accomplishment, our glorious work, our great achievement.

Because if we truly did believe these words, we simply wouldn't do the things we do.  If we really believed that we could very well be communing cats and dogs if it weren’t for the call of the Holy Spirit, we wouldn’t act as though the root problem with those who practice open communion is that they’re morons and not as smart as we are.  If we really believed that our desire to gobble up every word of the Lutheran Confessions comes from God and not us, we wouldn’t set up websites dedicated to smashing into pieces those who let too much dust accumulate on their copies of the Book of Concord.  If we really believed that it was no one but the Holy Spirit who crushed our sinful hearts and gave us new hearts eternally united to our Savior, well, we wouldn’t  think that the solution to the problem of unbelief is to rake people over the coals until they realize that we’re right.

None of this is to say that error/heresy/unbelief are not problems.  They certainly are and they need to be tackled head on.  The aforementioned open communion, for example, destroys a proper understanding of the Sacrament and the One who gives it.  And that will eventually destroy both the congregations and church bodies that endorse it. 

But tackling the problem and ripping to shreds those who perpetrate the problem are not one in the same thing.  And if, as we claim to believe, the only thing that can solve these problems is the Holy Spirit working through the Word, then we ought to act like it.  Instead of castigating, we ought to confess.  Instead of grumbling, we ought to proclaim.  Instead of sitting in our offices, sneering at those who  need exactly the same thing that the Holy Spirit so freely gave us, we ought to at least go to their homes, sit down with them and declare the Truth before we shake the dust off of our feet.  After all, for quite some time, the Lord kept His shoes pretty filthy for our sake.

My name is Pastor Hans Fiene.  Thanks for reading.

Friday, February 12, 2010

The "Bad Seminary" Double Standard

Disclaimer: Before you read any of this, you should know that, for the record, I believe both Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne, IN and Concordia Seminary in Saint Louis are outstanding schools with outstanding faculties who offer outstanding education and produce outstanding pastors.  I thank God for these institutions always.

Not too long ago, a brother pastor in my area resigned from his congregation and removed his name from the roster of ordained ministers of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. In other words, he stopped being a pastor in our church body.

He did this because he no longer confessed the doctrine confessed by the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. Rather, he now confessed the doctrine confessed by the Eastern Orthodox Church. On account of this new confession of faith, he believed he could not stay where he was. He "went East," as we often say.

When this happened, I felt rather sick to my stomach. In part, I felt sick because I believe that this brother pastor was ultimately sacrificing a higher regard for the Gospel in favor of a higher regard for chanting. But even more so, I felt sick because I feared the effect his departure would have on the congregation. I feared that his congregation would see this as an indictment on the school that had trained their now former pastor, Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne, IN. I feared that his departure for the Eastern Orthodox Church would amplify in their ears the phantasmal rumor that LCMS Lutherans always seem to hear wafting through the air-the rumor that Fort Wayne is the "bad seminary" because they keep producing liturgical wackos who end up leaving for Rome or Constantinople, unlike Fort Wayne's sister seminary in St. Louis.

It would be dishonest of me to pretend as though this is not a problem. Lutheran pastors or seminarians departing our church body for other confessions of faith is a problem. It is bad. It is scandalous. And, as I alluded to before, it is clear that there is something going profoundly wrong when men aspiring to or possessing the office of overseer deliberately choose to sacrifice the doctrine of justification on a heterodox altar simply because it has more candles and smoke.

But let's be honest about something. Concordia Seminary in Saint Louis has the same problem. They're struggling with the same beast. It's just wearing different stripes on the Clayton campus.

The real problem that we are struggling with isn't, at its core, about patriarchs or popes. It's not about smells and bells. At its core, the real problem is that men are graduating from our Lutheran seminaries but are not Lutherans. And while Saint Louis may not have the problem of placing men into Lutheran pulpits who confess the theology of Rome or Constantinople, they do have the problem of placing men into Lutheran pulpits who confess the theology of Geneva or Mars Hill, which may not be a geographical location, but sounds like it. (Side Note: Fort Wayne certainly has this problem too.)

This is, of course, a textbook double standard. The Catechism of the Catholic Church is not Lutheran. Neither is The Purpose Driven Life. But teach one of those to your congregation and you'll get invited to lead outreach workshops at district conventions. Teach the other and you'll get impaled on a makeshift pitchfork fashioned from banner poles and pew pencils during the Prayer of the Church. Can you guess which is which?

Encourage your members to kiss icons of the saints during the Divine Service and you're a nutjob. Encourage them to kiss their children goodbye at the start of the Divine Service as they send them off to "kid's church" and you're a man of the people (well, adult people, at least). Encourage your members to say a quick "Hail Mary" before receiving the Body and Blood of Jesus and you're a rabble rousing, divisive heretic. Invite your members' friends to eat and drink the Body and Blood that they laughingly deny are present and you're a welcoming, inclusive peace maker.

For whatever reason, we can always see right through the sheep's clothing fashioned by pope-ish hands. The wool that covers those on the other side, however, manages to do a much better job of fooling us. And herein lies the self-perpetuating circle of the Fort Wayne/St. Louis double standard. Confess Roman or Eastern doctrine and you must leave. Immediately. Confess Reformed or Evangelical doctrine and you can stay put until the Second Coming. And as long as this is the case, Fort Wayne will always look worse than her Show-Me-State counterpart because it's only the ones forced to exit who end up leaving a dust trail behind them for everyone else to see and lament.

But just because we can't see a track of footprints leading to Geneva doesn't mean that there isn't a whole mess of Lutheran pastors wearing Calvin's shoes. And, truth be told, I have more respect (though equal parts pity) for the guy who leaves because he can't, in good conscience, stand by his ordination vows anymore than I do for the guy who had no problem lying when he made them and continues to have no problem lying every time he gets near a Lutheran altar, font or pulpit.

My name is Pastor Hans Fiene. Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

And. Here. We. Go.

So, this is my very first blog post. Here we go...

When it comes to worship, I am anti-distraction. I do not like to see pastors doing things that draw my attention away from the Word. This goes for things on both sides of the liturgical spectrum--both things like this:

and things like this:

And then, whatever category this falls under:

In picture number one, if I were trying to listen to what the pastor was saying, I would not be able to. I would be distracted. I would be thinking to myself, "if this man is telling me about the most important thing in the world, why is he dressed like he's auditioning to be an L.L. Bean model? And why do those people behind him look so bored? Is that bass player just too embarrassed to look up because he forgot to wear shoes to church?"

In picture number two, if I were trying to focus on the words spoken at the altar, I would not be able to. I would be distracted. I would be thinking to myself, "why are those men lying down on their faces like they are suntanning? That must not be very comfortable for them. I hope someone cleaned the floor this week, because if no one did, their robes are going to get dirty."

In picture number three, well, in all honesty, I would just leave. The three year old child in me has never quite gotten over a similar scene in Poltergeist.

I recognize, of course, that "distraction" is a relatively subjective concept. One man's chanting is another man's praise band. But somewhere in the supposedly irreconcilably subjective, taste and culture driven formless blob that is the worship wars, there must the anchor of this simple, objective fact: The Church is the place where the sheep hear the voice of their Shepherd. And because of this, pastors ought to be careful not to get in the way of that happening.

My goal with this blog is to explore this issue. And any others that may come up in the process.

My name is Pastor Hans Fiene. Thanks for reading.